Gender Equality and Population Growth: What China and Europe Need to Know

China’s recent announcement that more families will be allowed to have a second child ended the one-child policy in effect in China since 1980. When the one-child policy was implemented, China’s leaders were desperate to control their population’s growth. With 1.2 billion people, or one-quarter of the world’s population, and a third-world economy, they worried that they could not continue to feed everyone and improve the standard of living for all Chinese people if they didn’t slow the rate of population growth. They succeeded on all counts, and now, thirty-five years later, as the second-largest economy in the world, China is facing a problem that many European countries are also facing—aging populations and not enough babies to replace or support them. But studies show that passing laws to encourage higher birthrates are not particularly effective. Steven Erlanger of the New York Times notes that countries with healthy birthrates have the following social forces engaged:

  • Gender equality
  • Trust within society
  • Immigration by people of childbearing age
Because China has none of these social forces in effect, their fertility rate is not likely to go up very much, and they are likely to face population-aging problems on a scale never before seen. What has gender equality got to do with higher fertility rates? The Nordic countries of Europe, along with France, were able to reverse their birthrates after they hit a low point in the 1960s and 1970s. Erlanger explains that the birthrates went up “because of social policies and attitudes in those countries promoting gender equality,” including paid parental leave and childcare support. In other Western European countries—like Germany, who did not institute these policies—the birthrates are still very low. One example of the impact of social policies on birthrates of is offered by Professor Francesco Billari of Oxford University, cited by Erlanger in his article. Billari uses Italy as an example where the trends have reversed between the richer North and the poorer South because of differences in social policy. The fertility rate is now higher in Northern Italy where women have more gender equality and job opportunities than in the South. Women in the poorer South, where there is high unemployment, more traditional gender-based divisions of labor, and “lack of female participation in the labor force,” are having fewer children than in the past. Russia, Central Europe, and East Asia are other examples of low birthrate countries and regions where there is a lack of gender equality, small numbers of working women, and few social policies to support working families. Professor Billari goes on to note that social policy that promotes gender equality and support for working families “has to be pushed by a society that is ready for it or demands it from politicians.” Especially during this election cycle, let’s demand that our politicians do more to promote gender equality and support working families!   Image provided courtesy of arztsamui at]]>

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